Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is Your Boss Still The #1 Reason You Leave?

We have coached hundreds of leaders and executives over the years and led an equal number of workshops on leadership and coaching. I often ask our clients in our workshops to identify the number one reason that people leave their organization. The answer has been universally the same over the 27 years I have been in this business. That answer is – my direct boss. If retention and succession have become leading contenders in organizational development success conversations, what keeps these companies from doing more about this dilemma?
Psychometrics Canada conducted a survey to study leadership in the Canadian workplace. Of those surveyed, 63.2% saw leaders as having a lot of influence over their organizations’ success with only 2.5% reporting that leaders had very little influence. This leads me to believe that our informal surveys over the years do have merit.
The survey also found that good leadership created some of the following results:
• Increased motivation (85.5%),
• Improved working relationships (85.1%),
• Higher team performance (80.7%),
• Better solutions to problems (68.9%), and
• Major innovations (41.6%).
So hooray for good leadership! But what about poor leadership? With so many ‘accidental promotions’ into leadership and not enough investment in developing good leadership skills, is there a cost to poor leadership ability?
The Psychometric survey professes that when not properly used, leadership can have many negative effects. Results falling into the top 5:
• Good people quitting and a lack of morale (91.7%),
• Employees’ skills not being utilized (87.2%),
• Disconnection between organization’s goals and employees’ work (76%).
• Feuding staff members (68.3%), and
• Failed projects (60%).
The Management and Leadership section of most bookstores seems to always take up as much space as the Mystery section. And with its challenges maybe the Management and Leadership section should be married into the Mystery section! With so much on the line in terms of positive benefits versus negative effects, uncovering the skills necessary for effective leadership is critically important.
The survey rated the importance of various leadership skills to success:
• Communication is critically important (90%),
• Dealing with change (52.6%),
• Managing people (48.2%),
• Setting goals (37.5%),
• Solving problems (30.3%), and
• Project management (12%).
When these key skills were rated survey participants were also asked to rate leaders on their current effectiveness in each of these skill sets. Here lies another challenge. Only 27.8% rated leaders’ communication skills as effective, and only 24% indicated that the leaders they know are effective when it comes to dealing with change. These respondents cited a number of obstacles that get in the way of leaders developing these skills. These include leaders not seeing the need for improvement (67.5%), not having enough time (63.1%), lacking support from superiors (50.1%), and having inadequate training budgets (41.6%).
When asked what leaders could do to be more effective, respondents endorsed actions such as:
• Clearly communicating how the organization plans to manage change  (89%),
• Talking less and listening more (81%),
• Providing clear expectations (78%),
• Having more informal interaction with staff (76%),
• Assigning tasks to staff based on their skills rather than office politics (71%),
• Holding people accountable (68%),
• Giving employees more responsibility (65%),
• Deferring to people with greater expertise (63%), and
• Overcoming resistance to change (48%).
Now all of this may seem so much like ‘duh’ to those of you reading this and as a coach and leadership developer for almost 28 years now, I would want to agree with you. The concern is that this seems to be so true and even more obvious that we wonder what it takes for organizations to realize how valuable it is for them to find the right leaders, develop the right leaders and keep the right leaders! And finally, here’s a toast to all of you that have had the seemingly rare luxury of working for and with one of those talented few.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Beauty As An Asset Or A Liability

I recently facilitated a workshop at a conference for the two sales divisions of a very successful pharmaceutical company. I travel frequently delivering workshops and speaking on the art of coaching and leadership. I love the adventure of traveling to different places, absorbing the local culture, and receiving the energy that shows up when participants learn and grow as a result of a workshop. This workshop provided me with some insights that led me to some research and new learning.
This conference was jam packed with beautiful people. Pretty women and handsome men filled the conference halls and almost without exception, the participants in my two workshops all topped the charts on the physical beauty scales. It was clear that this company saw a direct correlation to attractiveness and sales success. Type A personalities was also an obvious hallmark of criteria for the attractive sales professional along with what appeared to be one other criteria – youthfulness. I believe that fully eighty percent of the participants had to be under the age of 32. Youthfulness and high-energy personalities didn’t surprise me, but I did find myself curious about the beauty factor. Easily recognizing that I no longer fit into the youthful category, place myself more into the Type B personality range and do not qualify for the beautiful people club, I wondered mostly what impact beauty has in the world of business, thus fueling my curiosity.
Lisa Johnson Mandell posted an article in August of 2010 titled “Beauty Can Be A Beast At Work”.  She wrote “It's hard to feel sorry for pretty girls, since numerous studies have been done that show they have an edge when it comes to getting hired, promoted, elected and evaluated. But there are two areas in which they are at a distinct disadvantage: one is in fields that are traditionally considered to be masculine, and the other is when an insecure and/or jealous wife is involved.”
The Journal of Social Psychology revealed a recent study that suggests attractive women are discriminated against when applying for jobs that many people consider to be more testosterone-infused, called the manly job syndrome. "In these professions being attractive was highly detrimental to women," said Researcher Professor Stefanie Johnson of the University of Colorado Denver Business School. "In every other job, attractive women were preferred. This wasn't the case with men, which shows there is still a double standard when it comes to gender." Her study found that they frequently ruled out good-looking women for positions considered to be more masculine, but attractive men were not subjected to same discrimination.
However, there's another area where attractive women are often discriminated against and attractive men are not: That's in positions where the female will be working closely, or perhaps even living with, a married man. These include jobs such as personal assistant, assistant manager, nanny and au pair. The jealous wife syndrome.
Preferring less attractive females in these positions may be understandable, but that doesn't make it fair or easier to swallow, especially for the attractive women being passed over for the jobs.

Newsweek.com recently released an article titled "The Beauty Advantage," Newsweek surveyed over 200 corporate hiring managers and more than 900 members of the public to find out how looking good affects everything from hiring to office politics and promotions. The results prove Johnson's findings that beauty is no longer just skin deep but a double-edged sword that can help or hinder your career depending on how it is used -- a hindrance that researchers have coined, the "beauty is beastly" effect.
The findings from the Newsweek study include:
• Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers said that, "qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job."
• Half of hiring managers advised spending as much time and money on making sure they look attractive as on perfecting a resume.
• Sixty-one percent of hiring managers (most of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work.
• Newsweek also asked the hiring managers to rank the top nine character traits they sought in an employee in order of importance, appearance came in third, right behind experience (No. 1) and confidence (No. 2).
The conference sessions and the subsequent reading on the topic left me unresolved about beauty discrimination. It feels like many other things in life – sometimes it works to our advantage and sometimes it does not. May we all have success putting our best assets – whatever they may be - to their best use. My biggest hope is whatever that best use may be; it is for doing good and not evil!